Looking ahead to what 2014 will – and might – bring

Dec. 28, 2013 @ 11:47 AM

As the calendar turns to another year, we at The Herald-Sun, like our colleagues at most media outlets, have been engaging in the annual ritual of looking back on the past 12 months. Today’s front page story revisits the top 10 stories of the year. We’ve looked back at entertainment and arts; Monday, Laura Oleniacz will recap some of the top business stories of the year.

Later this week, reporters will offer looks ahead in several topics.

Today, I wanted to muse about some stories I expect will dominate our attention next year – and some I hope will, or that should come to pass.

We’ll see some major change in leadership in at least two key government bodies – Durham County, and Durham Public Schools.

County commissioners have been weighing the replacement for the retiring Mike Ruffin for months, and should have a decision shortly.  The transition should be a smooth one; Ruffin leaves the county in sound shape financially and functioning efficiently.

The school board faces a tougher task. Eric Becoats’ resignation Dec. 18 ended months of his steadily unraveling leadership, and becomes effective Tuesday. The board split 4-3 on accepting his resignation; it remains to be seen whether they can and will unite, first in defining what they are looking for in a new superintendent (and how aggressively to search), and then in deciding on someone to take over a system that despite progress still faces daunting challenges in adequately educating every student.

The board and superintendent will also face the task of shoring up a relationship with the county commissioners, a relationship strained by the discovery the schools had four times the unallocated fund balance they cited when pleading – successfully – for a  larger county financial contribution last spring.

The category of strained relationships needing repair would obviously include that between the Durham Police Department and a growing segment of the community it is pledged to serve and protect.  The department – and its chief, Jose Lopez Sr. – justifiably are under scrutiny for perceptions of racial profiling, a trio of fatal shootings in which officers were involved, and finally the tear-gas-fueled breakup of a protest earlier this month. 

For now, Lopez seems to be holding on to the cautious support of City Manager Tom Bonfield – who hires and can fire the chief – and Bonfield’s bosses on the City Council. 

Whether that support survives well into the new year could be impacted by the outcome of local and state investigations of the department’s actions, and by whether community dismay with the department mounts further.

On the plus side of the ledger, 2014 should see yet more dramatic recasting of downtown and nearby neighborhoods. The city’s long-discussed and finally undertaken project to remake the Southside and Rolling Hills neighborhoods will begin to bear fruit next year. New hotels and apartments underway or nearing launch will add to the nighttime vitality of the area. When financing deals are completed to birth a high-rise office/residential project on the long-dormant site where Woolworth’s once stood, our skyline will begin to undergo some significant reshaping. 

Optimistically, too, perhaps this will be the year long-anticipated projects will take shape for the sprawling auto dealership sites near the American Tobacco complex, projects that could further increase the density of downtown development.

I should note in closing that I fully expect that some of the most exciting, dramatic developments of the year ahead will be – as is so often the case – events, changes, upheavals that we don’t even begin to suspect today.

And I look forward to The Herald-Sun bringing you news of them when they happen.

Happy New Year!

Bob Ashley is editor of The Herald-Sun. You can reach him at 919-419-6678 or bashley@heraldsun.com.